47

– Spring/Summer 2019

Naeem Mohaiemen's Tragic History of the 1970s Left

Vijay Prashad

Naeem Mohaiemen, Tripoli Cancelled, 2017, video, 1h 33min. Courtesy the artist

Naeem Mohaiemen, Tripoli Cancelled, 2017, video, 1h 33min. Courtesy the artist

Naeem Mohaiemen is an archaeologist in search of a future. He digs through the rubble of the past, looking at fragments of the history of the Left, hoping to unearth a jewel here and a potshard there that would open a door to understanding and to social transformation. And Mohaiemen’s past is not far away – he is an archaeologist of the 1970s.

The reappearance of this particular decade – a formative period in the artist’s life – across his numerous films is striking and indicative of a larger project that is still unfolding. Born in London in 1969, Mohaiemen’s family moved from Bangladesh to Libya in 1975 as part of Muammar Qaddafi’s import of skilled labour to build his country. The story of Mohaiemen’s father – the inspiration for Tripoli Cancelled (2017) – is a synecdoche for the decade. On one of his journeys, Mohaiemen’s father is trapped in Athens without a passport. Being caught in limbo is a metaphor for countries such as Libya, or indeed Bangladesh, where Mohaiemen grew up. And just as his father is trapped in Athens, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – meeting in Algiers (1973),